PGA Rules Panel member Ashley Weller
While it was always a dream of mine to play golf on the European Tour, I now feel I'm starting to experience the next best thing.
Being a Tour referee doesn't come with the thousand pound cheques, the glamourous cars and lucrative sponsor deals, but it does throw you right into the cauldron of top level golf.
And it can be just as terrifying in its own way.
Weller was called into action when Lee Westwood (right) clattered his ball into the side of the cup at the British Masters (Photo: Getty Images)
Thankfully my most recent experience at the British Masters supported by Sky Sports at The Grove in Watford earlier this month was a relatively quiet week in terms of rulings, but it did have its moments, especially on the Thursday morning.
I was called to the 11th green on the Thursday morning to accompany the 'TV grouping' of Lee Westwood, Tyrrell Hatton and the defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick, as Westwood had just collided his ball full pitch into the side of the hole, causing no end of damage!
Westwood stood there with his putter and pitch mark repairer - an official 2016 European Ryder Cup one - and held it out to me and said: "Do you want to fix that?"
Hatton and Fitzpatrick started chuckling to each other, and that somewhat lightened the whole mood of the incident.
Several minutes later, I managed to effect a repair of sorts but I don’t think The Grove's head greenkeeper was hugely impressed with the whole scenario!
Weller helped give Chris Wood relief from a beer tent at The Grove (Photo: Getty Images)
Aside from dropping Chris Wood from a beer tent into a marquee and back out the other side - from where he made birdie - it was a relatively straightforward week in just my fourth spell as a referee on the main circuit following the 2012 Wales Open, 2014 Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews and 2015 Ladies Open at Turnberry.
I am very much looking forward to my next assignment with the main Tour, should they decide to have me again, and hopefully the next oportunity won't be too far down the line.
Paul Casey provided Weller with his moment of fame during the 2014 Dunhill Links at St Andrews (Photo: Getty Images)
I'm often asked what is the most memorable ruling I've ever been involved in, and purely from a pressure and location point of view, I'd have to say it was on the famous Road Hole 17th of the Old Course at St Andrews.
Minding my own business out on the course and away from the action, I was suddenly asked to cover holes 17 and 18 for the final few groups during round three.
As I arrived I was advised on the radio that Paul Casey - playing in the final pairing - would probably be in need of a ruling behind the 17th green.
I made my way round to find him just off the back of the green with his ball in an area of casual water. That’s a pretty straightforward ruling, until you realise that Peter Dawson, then Chief Executive of the R&A, is Casey’s playing partner and is stood feet away from you watching your every move!
Casey was partnered by former R&A chief Peter Dawson, who was on hand to watch Weller's ruling (Photo: Getty Images)
Throw in a giant crowd of spectactors, the fact it's one of the most famous holes in golf, the tournament is on Sky Sports, and it's the final group on a Saturday - you get the picture.
Anyway, I took a deep breath and tried to imagine I was at a minor tournament in the back of beyond and let instinct take over.
We took the correct relief, Casey dropped into a perfect lie and he capped it off by holing the chip for a birdie! Smiles all round and I departed the scene stage left.
Heading back into the office I was informed my entire performance had been screened live on Sky Sports. Had I known that at the time I would have probably been deprived of the ability to speak let alone conduct a ruling!
On top of that, I then received a message from Mr Dawson asking the tournament director to ‘guest ref’ and say it was a "perfect ruling." Cue fuzzy feeling inside and a celebratory dram in the hotel that night.
It was certainly not the most complicated ruling I’ve ever done, but so far the most memorable, and it's a moment I will cherish forever.
Points win prizes when it comes to making it as a Tour referee (Photo: Getty Images)
As for my journey into the referee game, it sort of happened by accident.
Golf was my passion as a youngster and I turned pro in 1992, simply just wanting a career in golf if not good enough to earn the big bucks as a Tour pro.
I then progressed into golf management - of which I'm currently the general manager at The Addington in Croydon - but along the way picked up a serious passion for the Rules and refereeing.
A little over 10 years ago the PGA initiated a CPD programme which required me to gain 100 points through attending seminars or courses. From pretty much a cost and location point of view I enrolled on a Rules course at Westerham GC to earn my first 25 points.
To my surprise I really enjoyed it and seemed to have some kind of aptitude. My dad was a scientist and I’ve always enjoyed maths and ‘logical’ subjects and I’m rubbish at art and anything requiring any kind of imagination.
Weller also works as the general manager of the beautiful Addington GC in Croydon (Photo: Getty Images)
I asked the guys from the PGA Tournament Department who were running the course if there was any kind of follow-up course and they recommended the two-day Level 2 Rules course held at The Belfry a couple of months later which carried 50 CPD points with a further 25 should I pass the optional exam. This was potentially my 100 points done and dusted.
I signed on the dotted line and off I trotted to Sutton Coldfield. Two days later I had been asked to shadow at a couple of Europro Tour events with a view to joining the PGA Rules Panel and that’s where it all started.
On the Panel you begin reffing at Europro Tour events - a developmental Tour for referees as well as players! - and as you gain experience you get to do national tournaments as well.
It’s all about gaining experience, watching how the guys who have been doing it for years handle situations and reflecting it in your own work.
There are two distinct skills, both just as important as each other. Firstly a sound and extensive knowledge of the Rules is essential. Second is the skill of applying the Rules in practical situations and dealing with the player in a polite, courteous manner whilst remaining a figure of authority and staying in control of the situation - which isn't the simplest thing in the world!
Officiating a Ryder Cup or one of the four majors is now Weller's greatest goal (Photo: Getty Images)
Being chosen to attend the R&A Tournament Administration and Rules course (TARS) is necessary to referee at the highest level.
It’s a three-day course at St Andrews with a practical assessment and written exam thrown in the mix. If you come out of that with a good mark it opens up all kinds of opportunities.
I attended in 2011 and was fortunate to pull a distinction out of the bag. Later that year I was asked to referee a Challenge Tour event in La Gomera, and the following year I landed my first ever main Tour event at Celtic Manor.
I'm thankful to have had a crack at four world-class Tour events, and I am hungry for more.
Reffing a Ryder Cup or one of the men's four majors would really be the icing on the cake.
For more information, visit the PGA, the R&A and The Addington GC.
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